Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This phrase from our Epistle in Colossians is fitting to conclude our Epiphany sermon series on living Christ in a commuter Church status. For every week in this season, we have focused on each letter of the word “heirs” from Ephesians 3, referencing how we are fellow heirs of the fulfilled promises in Christ. We have looked at how we are called to Holy lives through the declaration of God that we are holy through Christ. We have looked at this holiness in how we are called to exhort each other to endure through encouragement. We have looked at how in our call to holiness that God increases us through His inheritance by being brought out of the Kingdom of this world to His Kingdom, incorporation. Last week, we looked at how in holiness we are called to admonish those in rebellion to the refuge Christ provides through repentance and forgiveness in His Church, fostering respect and reverence. This week, we conclude with Colossians 3, how we are called in our declared status of holiness to the process God works in us of sanctification, in which singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are one of God’s tools in teaching us His Word.

With thanksgiving in your hearts to God: Put on Patience, Bearing, and Forgiving

            First, we see in our passage in Colossians 3 that Paul divides it into what we are to “put on” and “let” occur in our hearts. In addition, this sanctifying singing always occurs with the last part of Colossians 3:17 at the forefront, “with thanksgiving in your hearts to God.” The King James Version states, “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The word here is charis, which has the general meaning in the New Testament of grace, kindness, and thankfulness. Whatever we are doing as the Church, we are called to do so in loving grace. For this to occur, we use what God gives in terms of His means of grace to us in His Church. This includes putting on patience, bearing, and forgiving as Colossians 3:12-13 outlines.

            God is as the Bible states patient and longsuffering with us. In such grace, we are built up to patience with each other. The beginning of our lesson in Colossians spoke of putting on things such as patience as God’s chosen people that are set apart or holy by His decree, beloved. Patience is always extended to us because we are God’s children. Within the list Paul gave us, we could place the virtues of humility and meekness under the category of patience.

            We live in an impatient world due to the point we live in a world full of pride and sinful assertiveness. In response to this, God is patient. This grace to us is conveyed to us through the Holy Spirit. We need to pray for patience, humility, and meekness. When we are ungrateful for what the Lord gives us, we will be impatient and prideful. In our singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, we voice all of God’s wonderful works and graces to us in song. Yes, we also hear these things in spoken prayers, sermons, and so forth. Singing brings these truths to our hearts and minds on a different level that truly touches our souls. With many of the parts of the Liturgy, I have a much easier time to place the parts to memory in an ingrained fashion through singing. I have a difficult time for instance saying the Nicene Creed from memory by the spoken word. Yet, I could sing the chant I know best from past years of worship with it to this day. Singing is powerful and is why the words chosen to sing are critical to make sure they are in line with Holy Scripture.

            Closely linked to patience is the point of bearing with each other, forbearance. This in many ways puts the concept of patience to the test. It is God’s way of training us to be lovingly patient. He places people in our lives to bear with as we live life and respond to life. We need each other in our weaknesses to bear with each other as we go through impatient phases or moments. Bearing with each other teaches us the important concept of seeing a little snippet of how God treats us in His graceful patience. We are reminded of forbearance in Psalm 15:3, “who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor.” Often when we deal with someone testing our patience, we do not want to bear with them and resort to lashing out with our tongue to do evil to them.

            Bearing with each other begins and ends with forgiveness. If we hold onto grudges against those that hurt us, we will not forgive and therefore will not forbear nor be patient. In all of this is to realize the great guilt we have been forgiven of by God through Christ. As Colossians 3:13 states, “if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Life is utter misery when forgiveness lacks. Forgiving is a state of life centered in giving all our hurts, pride, and emotions to Christ to heal and to enable us to move forward through patience and bearing with each other. Forgiving has in mind Colossians 3:12, to put on compassionate hearts and kindness.

With thankfulness in your hearts to God: Put on Love

            The work of God in our hearts to instill thanksgiving is chiefly exhibited in His love for us. We see this as we just covered through His patience, bearing with us, and forgiveness. His love is a gift, undeserved and unmerited. Love is often hard to come by in human relationships. This is due to sin. We do not like to love as God loves us.

            Yet, Colossians 3:14 states, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” This echoes I Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” No matter how we try to pick things apart, love entails all that Paul wrote about in our Epistle. Without love; compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with each other, and forgiveness simply do not exist. Moreover, without the love of Christ; these are all impossible for us. When we go through periods where love lacks, it is a sign of our deep need to hear anew of the forgiveness of our sins in Christ and that we are God’s children. As dearly beloved children, we will mess up in not loving each other as we ought. We are not saying to give up in our inability to live in 100 percent perfection. No, we are stating that our inability means we find deeper solace in God’s forgiveness. It means to ask Him in prayer for His grace to love, to put on love. We need just ask, to cry out for it.

            God’s love binds us together as we read in our Epistle. Where love lacks, one will see division. Where God’s love is steadily moving our hearts, we will see the cracks we create sealed over in His love to reunite and bind.

With thankfulness in your heart to God. Let the Peace of Christ/Let the Word of God

            Moving from putting on God’s love to enable us to live in grace that only He provides, we close today with the natural result of putting on love; to let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. These both transition to our theme for this week, of the sanctifying work of God to teach us and admonish each other through singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

            In all we do, thankfulness is key. When love lacks, thankfulness lacks. God uses His Word and His Church to enable us through sanctification, His process of having us grow in deeper dependence upon Him. He uses all of us that make up the Church to foster this sanctifying thankfulness in each other. Singing as Paul states here is part of reading, hearing, and studying the Word of God. There is a book written by one of my Seminary Professors called, “Hymns as Homilies.” He goes through some of the more well-known hymns to describe how they serve as powerful sermons to the faithful to sing and meditate upon. God uses all our senses and gifts as avenues of His gracious teaching, to soften our hearts, to renew our minds, to heal our souls. Only by God’s Word do we know of the peace that Jesus provides. The Word of God is meant to dwell richly within us. In such, His peace and His Word are not subject to master as with a text book. No, His peace and His Word dwell in us richly, slowly, day after day, all our days.

            It is not about the holiness of the person leading with instruments, reading lessons, or preaching sermons. It is the about the content of the words God provides to use to His glory to transform us. We are all imperfect through our sins and lack of love, patience, kindness, humility, bearing with each other, and forgiveness. Yet, God still humbles us to come to this place on Sunday morning to hear His Words of grace, to sing His Words of grace that we all need to hear, utter, and sing. We need the love of God as seen in each other to enable us to love Him and each other. We come to worship to focus on God, not on entertainment. The content of every piece of Divine Worship matters. Let us close with these words of C.S. Lewis on worship, “Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.” Amen.